The women’s cross country team is peaking at the perfect time this season and as senior Natalie Bower put it “anything can happen” as the team heads into the NCAA Cross Country Championships this weekend.
Fresh off their Mid-Atlantic Regional championship, the women feel like all the momentum is on their side heading into the meet.
“It was really unexpected, so I think it gives us a little bit more confidence that now we know we can beat teams that are ranked ahead of us,” said redshirt freshman Leigha Anderson. “It give us just a little bit more drive.”
This year the national championships are being held at Louisville, Ky., a familiar territory for the Nittany Lions, who ran there back in September for the Greater Louisville Classic.
When the Penn State women ran the course then it was only 5,000-meters long, but will be a 6,000-meter course this time around.
Even with the extra 1,000 meters, the runners on the team think that they’re well prepared having experienced the terrain of the course already.
“I think that it will be, if anything, an advantage against the rest of the field,” said senior Natalie Bower. “We’ll know what the course has to offer to us and everything as far as the tight turns and things like that because this course definitely has a few of those.”
The women’s plan going into their race is to continue to run in a tight pack, which has been their trademark this year, and to put themselves in a position to catch teams at the end.
By winning Regionals last week, this years women’s team has already accomplished more than previous Penn State teams in recent history, but the team is looking to separate itself even further.
Last year’s women’s team finished 13th in the nation and one of the goals for the runners on this year’s squad is to top that performance.
“I think that’s definitely in our minds,” junior Emily Giannotti said. “It’s a completely different year, so there are completely different teams, but if we could do that and if we could get one of the lowest finishes we’ve ever had at nationals then that would be awesome.”
Along with the Penn State women, grad student Sam Masters from the men’s side will be traveling to Louisville to compete individually in the national championships.
He will look to end his successful cross country career on a high note, along with the rest of the Penn State runners who will leave it all out on the course in the last race of the season.
“The fact that it is the last race, especially for like seniors, I think it does add a little bit more incentive to kind of put it all out there on the line,” Giannotti said. “I mean it’s the national championships so everyone pretty much has that mindset.”
Natalie Bower, senior, has had the privilege of running in the national championships every year since she was a freshman.
Still, with this being the final race in her illustrious collegiate career, she is thinking selflessly about her teammates instead of her own personal goals.
“I know that each of us are capable of pulling off some pretty big things and we’ve proved that throughout the season,” Bower said. “If we can all go out and have like the best day for each individual that would make me really happy.”